Sevalaya promotes environmental practices. (Image Credit: Sevalaya)

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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Sevalaya, an NGO located in a village 45 KMs West of Chennai, runs a free elementary and higher secondary school for about two thousand underprivileged children and two orphanages for around 200 orphaned boys and girls. Sevalaya teaches students to see Mother Nature as part of their community, treat it with love and respect, and live in harmony with the environment. All the students and staff members of Sevalaya take a pledge to follow the “5S methodology” to “reduce wastage in manpower, material, machines and every other resource.” They are trained in the five principles of 5S: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. 

In the summer of 2019, when I visited the Kasuva campus of Sevalaya, I was treated to a wonderful science exhibition. The models, posters, and presentations addressed the problem of global warming and the need for sustainable growth. The students clearly articulated the main causes of global warming, and they explained different ways of reducing greenhouse gasses while working towards sustainable development.

There was a mime performance titled Say No To Plastic which addressed the problem of plastic bags polluting the water bodies and causing the death of animals. It was obvious that they were not regurgitating what they had memorized. I was pleasantly surprised, but I should not have been because the students of Sevalaya, not only learn about protecting the environment in class but also practice it from their childhood. A visit to the campus informs us how the students adhere to this 5S principle.

In the dining hall, which serves free meals to thousands of children and seniors, everyone puts the food waste in buckets placed near the washbasins. They rinse the plates and stack them one on top of the other to be taken for washing.

Everywhere on campus, they meticulously segregate the degradable from the non-degradable waste and send out the non-biodegradable for treatment. The food waste thus collected in the dining hall and the biodegradable waste are used in the production of organic manure.

They collect cow dung and cow urine from Vinobhaji Gaushala, which shelters cows that are considered to have outlived “the utility period” and are destined for slaughterhouses. They enrich the cow dung manure with biofertilizers. Simple aerobic fermentation converts this biomass to organic manure. The manure they produce is used for organic farming on campus, and the high school also teaches eco-friendly organic farming to the students of agriculture, even though it is not required as part of the curriculum. The cow dung from the gaushala is also used to produce biogas in a Gobar gas plant with a production capacity of 1 metric ton per day. This plant meets part of the fuel needs of the two senior homes on campus and the kitchen. 

When Sevalaya celebrated its 30th anniversary a few years ago, the students and staff of various units of Sevalaya planted 1650 saplings.

Their efforts to protect the earth extend beyond their campus. They make eco-friendly Ganesha idols with vermicompost and seeds for Ganesh Chaturthi, as an alternative to clay and Plaster of Paris idols, which end up polluting the water bodies. After the festival, the Ganesha idol can be planted and watered, and seeds sprout without harming the environment.

All these activities reinforce the responsibility of everyone toward a sustainable environment. Since it was founded, Sevalaya has transformed many surrounding villages from 100% child labor to 100% literacy and has garnered many awards. Besides educating underprivileged children to lift them out of poverty, Sevalaya also makes them responsible citizens.

Sevalaya USA donating goods to the Community Services Agency in Mountain View. (Image Credit: Sevalaya USA)

I’m one of the cofounders of Sevalaya USA, a nonprofit that works with Sevalaya in Chennai to support the education of underprivileged children. As a bay area nonprofit, we want to help our local communities too. Every year, we do a fundraiser to support the local shelters like the San Jose Family Shelter and the Community Services Agency in Mountain View and donate items like pillows, comforters, sheets, bath mats, blankets, sanitizers, and non-perishable food items.

We also help communities affected by natural calamities. After the Tubbs fire of 2017, we donated 400 pounds of food items to the Redwood Empire Foodbank in Santa Rosa. During the Camp Fire of 2018, we donated blankets, pillows, clothes, and sleeping bags to families sheltering at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church shelter in Chico, CA, and fundraised to support a school that was completely destroyed in the fire in Butte County. 

As we are celebrating our fifth anniversary this April, we hope to do more for our community…

Anandi Lakshmikanthan is a retired software engineer. She is a co-founder of Sevalaya USA. She tutors refugee and immigrant women and children in the bay area. She has written short stories and reviews. She likes to go for hikes in the parks and open space preserves in the Bay Area. 

Anandi Lakshmikanthan

Anandi Lakshmikanthan is a retired software engineer and an aspiring novelist. She is a co-founder of Sevalaya USA, which strives to make education accessible to underserved populations. She tutors refugee...